“Milk teeth” can tell us more about our children’s development than visits from the tooth fairy. According to new research published in November’s American Journal of Physical Anthropology, milk teeth, or primary teeth, shed light on ancient human behaviors.
The timing of teeth
Our primary teeth begin developing in utero, and usually begin erupting at around six months of age. The timing of this, of course, depends greatly on the individual– some children don’t cut their first teeth until 10 months or even a year, while a few are born with teeth. As we all know, there are no two children alike!
Not all primary teeth develop at the same rate, however. Incisors form in the second trimester of development in utero, while molars wait until the third trimester. In this study, scientists examined the rate of enamel deposition on developing teeth. Enamel is the hard outer layer of our teeth, and the enamel cells making this layer work at different rates depending on the tooth type: faster for incisors, and slower for molars.
So what’s timing got to do with it?
Researchers are drawing a connection between the timing of this early tooth formation and one of the oldest human behaviors: breast feeding. According to the scientists, incisor teeth develop early so that they are ready to erupt at around the time that the mother will wean her child.
Breastfeeding behaviors in ancient humans, including weaning, is a mysterious topic for anthropologists. We know that other primates, like chimpanzees, appear to breastfeed for longer, but of course learning about such precise behaviors from people who have been gone for millennia is challenging.
Scientists use tooth timing in anthropology
Researchers examined enamel deposits on the primary teeth of prehistoric skulls, to time their development and subsequent eruption. Because previous research on weaning only allowed scientists to examine skulls with “pre-erupted” teeth (a rare find), recognition of the relationship between enamel deposits and weaning greatly broadens the number of skulls available to study.
Of course, breastfeeding behavior between mothers and infants differs greatly between different people; practices vary widely around the world. But scientists believe there was probably a similar pattern among ancient humans, who didn’t have social media, attachment parenting, or any full-time job besides hunting and gathering. Learning about what our ancestors did to care for their young, can inform what we do now.
For your Portland dental clinic, it all comes down to dentistry
Even more important to us at Burlingame Dental Arts is having more proof of just how varied and fascinating the scope of your oral health can be. Not only do your teeth make a difference in your systemic health; they can tell us about a piece of history!
And speaking of primary teeth, remember to start your kids on their road to great dental health when their first teeth erupt or by one year of age. Early, regular, preventive dental care not only keeps your kids smiling, it teaches them the skills they’ll need for a lifetime of optimal oral health. Call or click to schedule your next appointment with Burlingame Dental Arts, your Portland dental clinic.